Perspective on Gambling
General Synod has responded several times to the issue of how RCA members should respond to gambling. Outlining the negative social impacts of gambling and urging RCA members to speak out against the growing gambling and casino industries, synod made its first statement in 1976, followed by statements in 1981 and 1997.
In a 1976 report to General Synod, the Committee on Christian Action called state lotteries "a costly free lunch" (MGS 1976, pp. 185-187). The report argued that it was nonsense that "state lotteries will bring millions of dollars into the public's purse at virtually no cost to any of us." On the contrary, the cost would be immeasurable, and must be gauged not in dollars and cents, but in the "far more valuable categories of community life and Christian principles." The report detailed some of the human and social costs of gambling and asserted that gambling elevated money to the status of a god.
General Synod passed a resolution urging members of the Reformed Church in America to avoid participation in state lotteries and to encourage their elected representatives to defeat attempts to continue state lotteries along with casino gambling.
In 1981 the Classis of Albany overtured General Synod to make a further statement on the issue of gambling in society, since Reformed Church members in various parts of the country were "faced with the phenomenon of casino gambling either in fact or in proposed legislation" (MGS 1980, p. 81). The 1981 Committee on Christian Action report on casino gambling quoted a statement by the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, which pointed out, in Issues and Answers: Gambling that:
- The Bible emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the direction of human events, while gambling looks to chance and luck;
- The Bible also condemns covetousness and materialism, both of which are at the heart of gambling process;
- Gambling seeks personal gain and pleasure at another's loss and pain, in contrast to the biblical principles of love for God and one's neighbor (MGS 1981, pp. 64-65).
The Committee on Christian Action report also made the following points about the social impacts of casino gambling:
- "Casino gambling is detrimental to our society. Most prominent is the corresponding increase in crime, both against the individual (robbery, murder, rape) and in the form of organized crime (prostitution, drug trafficking, corruption of public officials)."
- "More hidden has been the harm done to elderly and poor people. The casino industry has few jobs for unskilled people, and poor and elderly people are displaced as their low-income housing is destroyed to make room for new casinos. Further, it is often poor people who gamble the little they have in hopes of 'hitting it big.'"
- Although tax revenue from casino gambling has been promoted as an economic solution for tight government budgets, "[i]n reality, the profits from casino gambling go to a small segment of our societyÑthose businesses that run the casinos (often influenced, if not controlled, by organized crime)" (MGS 1980, pg. 81).
In response to the Committee on Christian Action report, General Synod passed a resolution affirming its opposition to casino gambling and other state-supported gambling and encouraging RCA members to urge elected officials to do the same (MGS 1981, p. 65).
"Opportunities to participate in gambling have increased exponentially since 1980 and the moral and economic costs to society have proliferated," began the 1997 report of the Commission on Christian Action to General Synod. "Gambling has become an addictive and detrimental part of this culture, as people seek easy answers and easy money instead of hard work and community responsibility" (MGS 1997, p. 87).
The Committee on Christian Action referenced statistics to show the major growth in the gambling industry in the US and Canada and concluded that, whereas the government's original task was to regulate this small industry, "the government is more likely to act as promoter than as regulator" (MGS 1997, p. 87).
In addition to reinforcing points made in 1980 and 1971 about the implications of gambling and casinos for low-income families, the Committee on Christian Action also explained the addictive nature of gambling and the potential impact it could have on stewardship. The committee resolved that "when governments and culture promote gambling, the biblical call for justice is undermined" (1997 MGS, p.87).
The Committee on Christian Action called on RCA members to:
- Oppose the expansion of gambling opportunities.
- Support efforts to eradicate the addiction of government and individuals.
- Become aware of the extent to which personal and corporate investments rely on and benefit from gambling.
- Reach out to meet the needs of compulsive gamblers and their families.
- Offer a message to society that hope comes not through games of chance or luck, but through the grace and mercy of our sovereign God.
In 1997 General Synod adopted four resolutions concerning gambling:
- To urge the general secretary, regional synods, classes, and RCA congregations to write letters to government officials on all levels in support of public policies that restrict gambling opportunities and oppose expansion of gambling.
- To create policy for the RCA that prohibits the investment of denominational funds in gambling-related companies; to encourage all RCA members to review their own investment portfolios to be consistent with this policy.
- To ask the Office of Social Witness to continue to keep the issue of gambling and its negative social consequences before the RCA; and assist the denomination in identifying investment opportunities that rely on gambling, and identify opportunities for RCA members to be involved in this area of public policy.
In addition, RCA members were encouraged to love, pray for, and support their members who are struggling with a gambling problem; RCA members were encouraged to offer assistance by:
- directing them to support groups.
- ensuring that the basic needs of their families are being met.
- encouraging the entire family to be an active part of the church body.
Through the persistent work of many individuals, groups, and churches (including the RCA), the 104th U.S. Congress approved the establishment of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.